Vic Akers: The legendary Arsenal Ladies manager who won 10 Women's FA Cups

By Tom GarryBBC Sport
Vic Akers
Vic Akers won 32 major trophies in his 22 years in charge of Arsenal Ladies' first team
2016 Women's FA Cup Final
Date: Saturday, 14 May Kick-off: 14:00 BST Venue: Wembley
Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio London and live text commentary on the BBC Sport website.

Many onlookers will view Arsenal Ladies as underdogs when they face holders Chelsea Ladies in the Women's FA Cup final at Wembley on Saturday.

It will be an unfamiliar tag, given they have won the competition a record 13 times.

One man managed the Gunners to 10 wins in 10 final appearances between 1993 and 2009, and for the majority of those successes he was also working as Arsenal's men's first-team kit manager.

Meet Vic Akers - the most successful manager in the history of English women's football.

Vic Akers (left)
Vic Akers (far left) guided Arsenal Ladies to a European Cup in 2007

The battle for Wembley

As well as success on the pitch, Akers was passionate in trying to ensure the Women's FA Cup final would one day grace England's national stadium.

"It's paramount for the women's game, "Akers told BBC Sport. "We always said, if it was at Wembley, we could have 30-40,000 there. We were fighting for 15 years plus.

"Could they have held it on the same day as the (men's FA Trophy) or the Vase? Now it's there, it's just fantastic."

Saturday's all-London final under the Wembley arch, in front of a record crowd in excess of 30,000, will be in stark contrast to Arsenal's first Women's FA Cup triumph at Oxford's Manor Ground, watched by 3,547.

The venue, which was demolished in 2001, still holds special memories for Akers as his side beat the then-holders Doncaster Rovers Belles 3-0.

"The first one is always the best. They're all great memories but winning that first final was special," Akers said.

"That was probably our biggest feat because they were the successful side at the time.

"The commitment of the players was marvellous, some of them travelling from all over, from Southampton even, working full-time."

Arsenal Ladies' previous Women's FA Cup finals
1993: Beat Doncaster Rovers Belles 3-01995: Beat Liverpool Ladies 3-2
1998: Beat Croydon 3-21999: Beat Southampton Saints 2-0
2001: Beat Fulham 1-02004: Beat Charlton Athletic 3-0
2006: Beat Leeds United 5-02007: Beat Charlton Athletic 4-1
2008: Beat Leeds United 4-12009: Beat Sunderland Ladies 2-1
2010: Lost 3-2 to Everton (aet)2011: Beat Bristol Academy 2-0
2013: Beat Bristol Academy 3-02014: Beat Everton 2-0

What was the secret to success over a sustained period of more than 16 years? "I was very fortunate to have worked with some great players and staff," Akers said.

"In the early days, there was no money in the women's game. Girls paid to play. But we managed to rebuild teams over the years.

"I am very thankful to David Dein (Arsenal's former vice-chairman) for his support - without him, I wouldn't have my OBE."

An unlikely hat-trick

Julie Fleeting
Julie Fleeting enjoyed eight successful years at Arsenal Ladies

When Akers' side beat Charlton 3-0 at Queens Park Rangers' Loftus Road in 2004, Scotland's Julie Fleeting was the heroine, scoring a brilliant hat-trick - but it was not as straight forward as it sounds.

"Julie Fleeting played for Scotland the day before and picked up an injury," Akers revealed. "She had treatment in the hotel and we doubted if she could make it, to be fit in time for the final.

"We knew it would be a massive blow - we later found out just how big a blow it would have been, because she scored a hat-trick.

"That was absolutely amazing, that hat-trick."

The forgotten women's Wembley final

While Arsenal Ladies have never played a Women's FA Cup Final at Wembley before, under Akers they did make one rare, historic appearance at the home of football in another competition.

In 1993, the first year women's football came under the auspices of the Football Association, Arsenal beat Knowsley United (now known as Liverpool Ladies) 3-0 in the final of the Women's Premier League Cup.

The date was Saturday, 29 May and the match was played on the same day, at the same ground, as the men's Football League Third Division play-off final. York City won 5-3 on penalties against a Crewe side that included ex-Northern Ireland midfielder Neil Lennon.

It was a unique foray to the home of football for the women's game at the time, and specifically for the League Cup, for which many of the early finals were held at Barnet's old Underhill Stadium.

"We didn't change in main dressing rooms," Akers revealed. "We changed in the opposite end to where the tunnel was.

"There were not many spectators."

'Divided loyalties' on Saturday

Katie Chapman
Katie Chapman, now Chelsea's captain, joined Vic Akers' Arsenal in 2006

Akers, who watched from the stands as Chelsea beat Notts in the 2015 final to secure the first part of a league and cup double, says he will be rooting for individuals on both sides on Saturday.

"Several of the girls at Chelsea used to play for me at Arsenal," he added. "It's great for all the girls.

"I'll have divided loyalties a bit. I'm delighted for all the girls who have got there.

"I've been able to experience the final over the past two years with the men's side, but this will be something special."

In this season's semi-finals, Arsenal thrashed Sunderland 7-0 while Chelsea beat league leaders Manchester City 2-1 after extra-time.

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